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Sensitive lands still loom over city

One of the council's 2011 goals focused on the intent to resolve the concerns that residents have about sensitive lands. A council work group, comprised of Councilors Mary Olson and Mike Kehoe and Mayor Jack Hoffman, was established earlier this year to work toward solutions. Along with the city attorney, this work group met with Metro on Aug.18, and the outcome of that meeting was good news for private property owners. Metro indicated that there is no need to add any more private properties to the 'sensitive lands' program and private properties that received this land use restriction in 1998 could have their rights restored, because Metro representatives indicated that the 'no roll back provision' was not a barrier to change.

However, we have seen no further actions to resolve this issue and restore the rights of the residential property owners burdened with this land use restriction. It is outrageous that the council is not being proactive about this opportunity to correct this program and restore the rights of the impacted private property owners.

For almost three years, LO Stewards and other citizens have been actively pursuing solutions to this issue. Countless volunteer hours have been spent researching the issue and advocating for change. Yet, despite citizen input running more than 90 percent against this program, despite over 1,000 citizen signatures on a petition, despite countless emails and letters and hundreds of people showing up at meetings and despite Metro's agreement to change, nothing has changed. Quite the opposite. Council has actually implemented more regulations to tighten controls on 'sensitive lands' properties. Sound familiar to the approach to other critical issues in our city?

Ignore the input of citizens and continue on their own path despite overwhelming citizen opposition. The only things changing with 'sensitive lands' is tighter regulations and a new program name - a recommendation of the Second Look Task Force. However, no matter what they call the 'sensitive lands' program, the fact remains that it is not about the environment. This is an arbitrary, inequitable 'trade' program that applies land use restrictions to some properties in order to allow development in other areas deemed to have greater economic development value. If 'trades' must be made, then public land should be the 'trade,' not citizens' private property.

The 'sensitive lands' issue could be easily resolved simply by increasing protections on public land and removing the private residential properties burdened with this program and not adding any more private residential properties. Private properties with a 'sensitive lands' designation (primarily backyards), represent just 3 percent of all the land in the city, and are also protected with the almost 20 other natural resource ordinances and programs that apply city-wide.

The city has admitted that 'sensitive lands' is a 'trade' program and that the city does not pay fair market value for property with land use restrictions such as 'sensitive lands.' Knowing this, it is unacceptable for our elected representatives to ignore citizen input and not correct this damaging, devaluing program. If this city council can't or won't make the necessary changes to the 'sensitive lands' program, then 2012 will be a time to make the necessary changes to city council.

For more information, or to donate so that we can facilitate change in 2012, please see our website at www.LOStewards.org.

Bob Thompson, Lake Oswego, is a member of LO Stewards PAC.